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|Updated 22 Dec 2001||
First Stop - India - Nov/Dec 2000
Map of India
Karni Mata Rat Temple
How about a shave?
Me at the Taj Mahal
Lonely Planet info India
CIA World Factbook India
US State Dept Warnings
25 Nov 2000 Excellent BA flight to Delhi, arrival at YWCA not to great, little shopping in Delhi and organise trip to Rajasthan in total jetlagged daze at ITIB, get guide, Ghopal, and car see New Delhi sites, bad Indian food at fancy restaurant
26 Nov Delhi Wake up early,change to Red Palace hotel,and head to Old Delhi, see Red Fort, Ghandi's Funeral Memorial and Hamayun's Tomb-- precursor to Taj Mahal, ready to leave Delhi, starting to tire of Indian food
27 Nov to Agra New driver/guide Pramod after some mechanical difficulties with Ghopal , head to Agra (200km and 4 hrs), frightening roads...cows, bicycles, tuk tuks, people, trucks, busses, see Agra fort and first glimpse of Taj Mahal at sunset
28 Nov Agra to Bharatpur Wake up at 6 am to get to Taj for sunrise. Absolutely magnificent, sublime, perfect building. Outstanding hour watching sunlight rising and changing colors of Taj . Go to marble engraving factory for some inlaid marble boxes and coasters, then head to Bharatpur (80km) at edge of Rajasthan. Hindi getting much better as I get lessons constantly from Pramod.
29 Nov to Jaipur Another ridiculously early morning get 3hr sunrise bicycle rickshaw tour from Papu Singh in Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. His brother Raju was highly recommended but was unavailable (card). saw thousands of beautiful birds in malarial marshlands, eat more Indian food--defn ready for food change, drive to the Famous Pink City of Jaipur-- capital of Rajasthan see trained bears, painted elephants, and hundreds of camels on road. See 3 hr Hindi film, Operation Kashmir (excellent action and singing), at Raj Mandir Film Palace in Jaipur (ticket 1 dollar, popcorn 11 cents, coke 22 cents) then eat at Pizza Hut, yeah!
30 Nov Jaipur Fantastic day, Start late around 9:45 and head up to Amber Fort (7km out of Jaipur). Take 30 min ride to top of fort on super comfortable luxury bed atop a painted elephant. Feel like Maharajah. Go to block printing textile shop--walk out 2hrs, 4 teas, and lunch later after ordering tailored silk robe and 2 pairs of tailored trousers that I didn't realise I needed. Received special 10% friend discount. Head to Tiger Fort for another vista over Pink city write postcards. Return to Jaipur, Pramod says I take you to carpet shop. Bells start ringing (I think that perhaps carpet salesman are to be avoided and may not be the most trustworthy people), 'No way, waste of time, Pramod there is no way I need or will buy a carpet', '99 percent of Americans and Europeans buy carpets,you buy', 'Well I am that one percent'. Go for carpet making demonstration; walk out happily 2 hours, 2 teas, 2 Pepsis, and one 6' x 9' carpet later. Received 12% friend discount. Go to famous sweets shop in Old City Bazaar (candy should not be curry flavoured!) Drive to Indiana Restaurant, have excellent Rajasthai Veg Thali (mixed plate) and watch traditional local dance show (belly dancer with 8 clay pots on head), have some whiskey and coke with Pramod
1 DEC Holy City of Pushkar!!! Leisurely 4 hr drive to Pushkar, lots and lots of camel drawn carts on the road schlepping straw for bricks, and large cut marble slices; arrive at Pushkar Palace hotel, former palace of the Maharaja of Kishangarh located on the banks of the holy lake Pushkar (where Brahma cried). Massive ancient wooden doors adorned with huge elephant spikes protect the entrance of the hotel, corner room is great with views over lake and the small town and numerous ghats (steps to go down to lake where pilgrims go to bathe in the sacred water) have large wooden for poster bed and matching single wooden wardrobe freezing marble floor and old ceiling fan.super charming.
town is total hippy place. watch sunset on ghat near hotel, go to buffet dinner at the hotel, great tomato soup and rice pudding like dessert w chocolate, then head out to mkt. str, main road full of colorful shops get strange head neck back massage ($1.40) with oil from barber while staring at his dirty combs and scissors
DEC 2 Pushkar breakfast in garden then wonder through town and have very close shave from relatively hygienic barber who advises me to grow mustache in Indian style (I concurred and now have a very thick Saddam Husseinlike mustache); go to Internet cafe speak Hebrew with Israeli girls; have tea with lovely local ladies and buy them biscuits and soap; have holy puja at ghat with Brahma priest: throw flower in Holy Lake, get paint on forehead, get orange string bracelet say Sanskrit prayer; go to sunset ghat, buy strange lutelike instrument from musician, dinner with interesting couple from Mexico who are going around the world the other direction .
DEC 3 5 hrs go to Udaipur. Stop on way to see 1000 yr. old Shiva Nagda Temple, excellent hotel (Ram Pratap Palace) just outside of old town, have very bad Indian Mexican food. Finish Maugham's "The Razor's Edge"
DEC 4 Udaipur see Vishnu Jagdish temple (1651), then to City Palace in the morning the largest palace complex in Rajasthan, see silk painting shop, take hour boat trip around islands. For dinner take small launch from City Palace to the super cool Lake Palace hotel which was a built in 1700 by Maharani Jagat Singh as a summer palace and was featured in the James Bond film "Octopussy". Excellent dinner in marble sumptuousness and interesting lentil dessert! Entertained by women balancing flaming pots on their heads. Buy that camel bone painting that I desperately needed, not!
DEC 5 Drive to Blue City of Jodhpur stop on way at Ranakpur to see amazingly carved marble Jain temple, get to Jodhpur stop near clock tower and busy polluted spice market for special makhania lassi (sweet saffron flavoured yogurt drink) that totally hits spot after 6 hr drive,then zip up to the immense fort for tour from friendly guide, Brahmins' homes are painted blue which gives the city a blue cast, stay at Ratanada Polo Palace, then go to excellent outdoor restaurant On The Rocks for good Chinese
DEC 6 Drive to Golden City of Jaisalmer Wake up in Jodhpur have breakfast at Umaid Bhawan Palace Hotel--the home of the current Maharajah--overlooking majestic fort and bird park. Drive to Jaisalmer break down in desert 20km from Jaisalmer; fortunately two other tourist cars stop and tow us in using a seatbelt, eventually head into main town, stop by government bhang shop for chocolate and cookies, run into Ghopal (my first driver from Delhi), he's driving group of four girls around. Have dinner and bottle of Indian Whiskey with Ghopal, Pramod and Hanuman(a local friend). have my full beard and Indian mustache shaved off and get facial in strange shaving parlor
DEC 7 Jaisalmer and Thar Desert get up for 2 hr tour of the old city, palace is pretty rundown, go to hotel to meet camel drivers for camel safari. Turns out that I am the only one on trip, drive 40 km out into the Thar desert, get camel and 15 yr. old guide, Badia, ride for three hours, left to wander and watch amazing sunset over Sam Sand Dunes with friendly/inquisitive scarabs, somehow find my way 3km to collection of six thatched huts (the "village" of Panualdani), served excellent spicy vegetable dinner and have bed under stars prepared, wake up hearing strange and worrying camel sounds around my bed, watch moonset and see millions of stars--breathtaking
DEC 8 Jaisalmer wake up in desert have tea and toast served by Badia's 5 yr. old sister, get back on camel for 2 hour morning ride, meet drivers and get back to Jaisalmer, shower, go shopping for textiles and pillows, dinner w Hanuman and Pramod
DEC 9 Bikaner long drive through desert to Bikaner, excellent well preserved fort, best preserved in Rajasthan. Meet Australian sisters, Belinda and Candice, at lunch in hotel. Go 40 km to Temple of Karni Mata famous for its holy rats (said to be incarnations of mystics). must walk in barefoot, step through silver doors, see hundreds of rats sipping giant cauldrons of cream, scurrying over shoes, and writhing among mobs of less than clean pigeons. Pramod pulls me into the inner sanctum of temple where pungent odors of sour milk, regurgitate, foot odor, pigeon/rat droppings and feathers concentrate around a silver Vishnu icon. Manage to last a full 8 minutes in temple without vomiting. Scary drive back at night, everyone uses bights; nearly hit: 3 spotted deer, 2 massively overloaded completely-unilluminated wheat tractors, several big trucks and busses. Take shower, bath and shower. Have dinner in hotel with the sisters who seem very impressed by the bravery of my visit to the Rat Temple.
Dec 10 Jhunjhunu stop on way to help fix another car, go to Mandawa and see magnificently painted havelis (mansions), stay at Hotel Jamuna Resort in super cool maharajah mirrored painted room. have drinks in the garden with Australian sisters, meet hotel owner who philosophises about first thought and second thought and explains that the girls are too young to have second thought while older people only have second thought, also meet German Literature professor, Peter, who talks about the cultural life in East Berlin before reunification. Pramod takes us for drive around deserted dusty town after dark and buy whiskey and yummy buttery sweets. back to hotel eat veg thali dinner and drink around a big fire while entertained by colorful beturbaned Rajasthani sitar player and his veiled wife's singing, stay up playing Uno and blackjack and finishing sweets in maharajah painted room.
Dec 11 Back to Delhi Wake up, have typical Indian bucket shower-- you fill up a big bucket with warm water and take your small shower bucket (which is worryingly identical to your small toilet bucket which is used in lieu of toilet paper) and douse yourself. Drive back to Delhi listening to favorite Krishna tape "Kabhi Ram Kabhi Shyam Banke". Go back to Travel Agent, Jimmy, who tries to convince me to visit Kashmir region ('It is very safe, even honeymoon couples are going'), upon consultation with Ashley in London wisely reject Kashmir route (over the next 2 weeks, 52 civilians will be killed during unrest there) and get Pramod again for an 11 day circuit thru Uttar and Himachal Pradesh, eat dinner at Pizza Hut and relax in Delhi dive hotel with dirty carpet
Dec 12 Pramod's Village in Uttar Pradesh wake up and go to McDonald's in Delhi, no Egg McMuffins there, just cheesy and toasted buns for bkfst, drive 40 km to Kudi. Pramod takes me to his local barber for shave and haircut before I meet his family. This was one of those far from hygenic shacks set up on the side of the main road in any Indian town... barber's infant boy in dirty cloth diaper cries on floor, he loads a new razor blade and tosses the old one on the ground, generously applies cream and brushes cold, brackish water to make thick foam, shaves 'beard' and 'moustache', then have hair cut and smelly oil wiped on head. all for $1.40
Kudi is a town of 750 about 3km off a minor road connecting Delhi and Hardwar in the North. It is a sugar cane and wheat growing community where everyone is related to Pramod and completely vegetarian (certain high Hindu castes are strictly vegetarian) . It is also a town that has not one single toilet (people take walks into the fields and use irrigation water to 'rinse' with left hand) or a television. I'm a huge hit and subject of great curiosity amongst the Kudians. I meet the father and mother who blesses me by sweeping her right hand over my face; meanwhile, Pramod's 18 and 22 year old unmarried sisters (picture of sisters, father, baby, and uncle ) scramble to bring us tea. Tracked by numerous cousins as we go to the grandfather's house, where several elders are sitting around the courtyard on beds smoking a water pipe and hacking while young female grandchildren bring them tea and food. I am invited to sit, smoke, and drink.
I sit, have a toke of the pipe, cough, and the questions begin... 'How old are you?', 'Where is your wife?', 'How long are you travelling?', 'How can you leave your family and village for so long?', 'Why aren't you working?' My explanations of: 1) not meeting the right girl yet and 2) the importance of self discovery and betterment thru travel and exposure to different cultures, do not satisfy them at all, and they urge me to go back quickly to my home village, find nice girl from my caste, get married and have children. Return to the father's house, go into the main room of the men's house where there are six beds (which are twin bed sized wooden frames, covered in jute twine, on which mattress rolls are placed for sleeping) , all the men (Pramod, his dad, two uncles, and me) sit on the beds covered in blankets as the sisters bring us dinner of lentils and chilis and buttered flat bread which we eat with our hands (roll up the bread and scoop up the lentils). Hot fresh bread is brought immediately by the attentive sisters, I drink shots of '8PM' whiskey with the father and uncles and amuse everyone with my limited Hindi and amaze them by using my mobile phone to speak to my Mom and find out that Chicago is freezing and has 12 inches of snow. Sleep in room with the Father whose cough keeps awake.
Dec 13 Kudi again Wake up have amazing buffalo chai, read some more of Gandhi's autobiography; invited to play bit of cricket with next door cousins, bat suprisingly well, bowling not so good; get bucket of hot water made and have 'shower' in courtyard. In afternoon, take 45 min buffalo cart ride into main town, extremely uncomfortable, have tea at Brahmins house where meet old army vet who tells me stories from India/Pakistani wars in Kashmir. Have tasty vegetable pakoras w/ chilis and mango chutney from street stall. Go back to Kudi eating peanuts. have spicy spinach-potato dinner and tea served by the younger sisters. Drink whiskey with the Father and sleep to sounds of coughing...
Dec 14 Rishikesh- Himalayan foothills, Uttrakhand wake early and 4 hr drive to Hardwar.. hate it, head to main pilgrimage ghat, the way is full of depressing diseased beggers, leperous amputees, and others. drive 24 km more to Rishikesh..much better, charming town. but dodgy Indian hotel room with good tv
Dec 15 Rishikesh move to New Bandari Swiss Cottage located high up on hills overlooking Ganges; lunch at Chotiwala's then wander around Ram Jhula area looking for Yoga school
Dec 16 Rishikesh meet yoga instructor, Narendra ('Just call me Bob') at ashram conveniently located behind my hotel. sign up for 4 days of tantric/hatha/astringa yoga classes 2 hrs in morning and 2 hours in afternoon, first lesson feels pretty good, then go into Lakshmi Jhula area, get not-the-best massage from from Bob's assistant, Mani, (2 massages are included with lessons) - it consists of me lying in my underwear on the floor of a drafty little blue shack, with Mani smearing smelly thick Ayurvedic oil on me and pinching me while his 5 yr old watches cartoons on a little black and white tv 10 inches from my head, go to old Bandari cottages for dinner meet french guy Pierre, australian girl Mandy, and super fun Jewish farmer couple Joy and Andrew from upstate NY, later meet Nick of www.nakedvet.co.uk who drove a motorcycle from England to India thru Europe, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. Pretty nuts.
Dec 17 Rishikesh wake up for yoga, go into town with Pierre and Mandy, walk around, afternoon yoga pretty hard stuff, sit on balcony with Pramod, joy and andrew have dinner beautiful warm day
Dec 18 Rishikesh Happy Birthday Leonora Lynn Shaw!!! yoga class with japanese girl, forced to get another pinching Ayurvedic uncomfortable massage, eat at Chotiwala's, go to yoga meet Hannah, a psychologist fr California, hear about her guru, Amritanandanayi (Ama), plan Ganges trip, try to convince Hannah, Japanese girl, Mandy and Pierre to come, call birthday sister from little call kiosk and hear more about cold Chicago weather, go to dinner and have Indians from Pondicherry adopt me and speak to me in rapid French about Ama and another guru/saint, Shai Baba...
Dec 19 Rishikesh Great day! Have chocolate banana pancakes and fresh fruit porridge served on patio overlooking Ganges, yoga class - 90min of painful advanced asanas. Only Hannah convinced to go on trip, drive upriver 25km to Shivpuri, Hannah and guide in one inflatable kayak, i go solo in another kayak. sunny warm day, ganges milky blue and cold, wear wetsuit, helmet, and lifejacket, get 4 min lesson and safety demo ('Don't fall out') and we are off to 'Good Morning' the first rapid of the day. intense, much closer to river in a kayak than on a raft, get thru and then head to 'Rollercoaster', class 3, and get buffeted by big spray and waves, I am still in shock that: 1) I am in a kayak alone in white water, 2) I am doing this in the holy Ganges surrounded by Himalayan foothills, and 3) I am still in the kayak! Flocks of birds abound in the dense greenery of the gorge, paddling between deadly rapids so peaceful and quiet, after 3 hrs we see Laxhmi Jhula bridge and Rishikesh, great perspective of ashrams on the river banks, see saddhus and priests praying letting flowers go on bank of river (doing pujas). take kayaks out after Ram Jhula in shallow muckiness. have lunch of spinach lasagne and head to afternoon yoga class where I graduate and receive special certificate of yoga merit from Bob. Fun dinner with Hannah, next table has a wannabee guru and a devoted young follower, given Nag Champa incense
Dec 20 Corbett Tiger Reserve - Uttar Pradesh head to Corbett park for tiger tracking, long dificult bad roads, leave at 8 am feel very sick and super sore from rafting and yoga, arr at Claridge's Corbett hideaway, excellent private bungalow, with big teak and wiker bed and lounge furniture, patio overlooks pool, great lodge! take nap
go to wildlife presentation safari/safety talk from Imran the lodge naturalist, learn that tiger males grow to 10 feet in length, if attacted by tiger poke at their eyes, hear various wildlife sounds impersonated. Go to dinner with Nancy,former school teacher/peace corps, her son college student son David from San Fran and her nephew Jack an architect from Telluride CO
Dec 21 Corbett Tiger Reserve 5:30 early wake up tea in room , get in back of jeep with Nancy, Jack and David and blankets, drive 10km to park for sunrise elephant safari. and head out in search of tigers! see monkeys, chitals (spotted deer), and vultures, for two hours, see sunrise amid giant sal trees in forest, undergrowth filled with weed fr south america come back to camp at 9:30 have big breakfast with masala omelette (onions, coriander, tomatoes), nap, stroll along road to post office, get attacked by cow! , get lunch, and head out for afternoon sunset jeep safari
much more effective on jeep as we follow tiger tracks and scratchings on trees, find tiger poo but no actual tiger, see more deer and alot of cute monkeys. incredibly exciting and exhilirating tracking tiger in a jungle.
Dec 22 Back to Delhi wake up early, horrible visibility in thick blanket of fog, arr Delhi, go to travel agency and don't buy any trips or excursions, farewell to Pramod at suprisingly uncompletely chaotic New Delhi Train station, catch the 4 pm Rajdhani Express train to Bombay (17hrs!) share 4 person 2nd Class sleeper car with dark South African Indian couple (Raj and Kapir). Service on train is excellent, they bring us bottled water, snacks, a veggie dinner (sort of an Indian TV dinner with rice, lentils, and curd), stab toe on metal bolt trying to get back into top bunk after 3 am foray to 'Western Style' toilet. Bravely, I don't scream out and wake the Raj and Kapir to my suffering caused by: 1) allowing them to sleep on both bottom bunks (Raj claimed to have a bad back which made climbing difficult) and 2) my consideration toward them by not turning on the lights and seeing the sharp tetanacious edges of the bunk supports. Eventually manage to get to sleep.
Dec 23 Bombay wake up and recount the evening's adventure in slow graphic detail to Raj and Kapir during breakfast (sort of a spicy potato latke with ketchup and tea) who seem genuinely moved by my stoicism and valour during the night. Arrive into completely chaotic Mumbai Central Station, porters swarm the train grabbing at luggage then bolt out of the train with their hands full. I manage to chase my backback to the taxi stand and pay a ransom of only 60 cents for my bag. Taxi drives to Regency Inn Hotel in Colaba area (a relatively nice area of Bombay I thought), big airconditioned room with alleged hot water for a India-steep $22/nt, take nap and tepid bucket shower.
Go to boat ferry for Elephanta Island, asked literally 8 times if I want to buy drugs in 2 blocks walk, take hour ferry ride, big haze over city, water of Bombay Harbour opaque dirtygreen. See thousand year old carvings at the Shiva temple caves at Elephanta. Highlights: the 18ft high three faced Shiva head and the Shiva Parvati carvings-- superb! ride ferry back and find a Baskin Robbins. asked to buy drugs another 5 times while walking back to hotel eating my hot fudge sundae -- begin to have doubts about quality of neighborhood. Finally, buy a quarter kilo of opium and a few grams of heroin just so the drug dealers would leave me alone (a joke).
At night go to Chowpatty Beach famous for its colorful nightlife of street food vendors and Indian Head Massagers (for 20 cents they will realign your head and back), go to New Kulfi Corner for a pistachio kulfi (kulfi is Indian Ice Cream that isn't very good and has a halvahlike texture) meet Spanish Couple from Valencia, go to the filthy beach and get chased by people that wanted to massage our heads. go back to Colaba and have another sundae at Baskins
Dec 24 Bombay go to Leopold Cafe (traveler hangout) for good masala omelette (onions, chilies, and coriander), get an excellent English speaking driver for three hour city tour. first stop Jain Temple, intricate marble sculptures, see priests ringing bells and waving incense, priestesses sitting in alcoves marking their foreheads with sandalwood; go near Parsee (Zaroastrian) Towers of Silence, see vultures circling in the area, Parsees believe that burying bodies defiles the Earth and burning them (which Hindus do) defiles Fire (which they worship). Therefore, The Keepers of the Towers place the corpses on top of the obscured structures to be devoured by vultures, then pulverise the bones and sweep them down the center shafts. Next on to: Gandhi's house and see his private photos and letters (including ones to Hitler and Tolstoy) and his very few possessions (literally one spoon, a bowl, etc.); the laundry ghats and the laundymen bashing clothes clean; and the closed small blue painted synagogue in the Fort area. Had incredible lunch and best meal in India at the Bharat Dining Room, crab corn soup made with the freshest most delicate crab meat, tiger prawns and biryani rice and a good homemade pistachio desert, walk back to Hotel and pack. Have lamb kebab sandwich at popular outdooor stand near hotel.
Dec 25 Fly to Bangkok Merry Christmas!!! 5 am flight on Cathay Pacific, super comfy seat and good breakfast (masala omelette and spicy potatoes), sleep a bit, get to BKK and check into awesome Hotel Plaza Athenee go to my climate controlled room with big marble bathroom and shower and familiar looking western toilet, take bath and shower, lay around in Hotel Robe watching TV. Everything feels great after India. at night go to Chris Bailey's tailor, Raja's International (card),on Sukhumvit and get fitted for 2 custom suits and a tuxedo, mcdonalds for dinner
Dec 26 Bangkok go to Myanmar embassy to get visa, meet American girl from Texas with dysentery; Prathip plaza for software; have great steamed sea bass with spicy chili sauce in tiny restaurant near the fish market; go to Raja's for first suit fitting, arrive early so go to beauty shop next door and have one hour foot reflexology (for 250 Baht or $6) while having a facial (an additional $7.50), feel a bit self indulgent, go to Raja's meet Raja himself, have an extra 6 trousers and 6 shirts custom made (Special Buy 5 get one Free offer); go to Haagen Dazs have hot fudge sundae and receive Haagen Dazs VIP Card good for 10% off all future ice cream orders. Feel very proud to finally be recognised as an ice cream VIP.
Dec 27 Bangkok go to Myanmar embassy to pick up visa, buy ticket to Rangoon at Thai Air, have lunch by pool at hotel, excellent , green chicken curry, work out in Hotel, meet Mike Holtz at hotel, go to Irish themed pub and restaurant and learn intricacies of airline scheduling, pricing and routings
Dec 28 Bangkok meet Amex Travel contact with Mike, go see 45m long gilded Reclining Buddha at Wat Po, have very strong Thai massage at the Wat Po Massage School, river taxi down to the Oriental for lunch buffet at hotel, pool, work out, Wylie arrives, go ringside to Thai Kick Boxing! Chinatown for dinner
Dec 29 Bangkok go to Khao San Road and watch video, scary fried chicken at local market, Mike leaves for Hong Kong, pool and Aromatherapy Massage at hotel spa, again feel a bit self indulgent, go to Raja's for Wylie's fitting, have pasta dinner.
Dec 30 Bangkok Justin arrives 6am, go to massive weekend market, great Thai dinner then excellent jazz club Brown Sugar meet Americans teaching in Japan, go on to Q Bar (cool upscale Thai disco) near Sukumvit
Dec 31 Bangkok go to Khao San road for photos, lunch buffet at hotel, pool, start out at Witch's Brew pub and hear some jazz and win t-shirts, go to BrewHouse Entertainment Complex for dinner, full of trendy Thais and band playing Britney Spears cover songs, leave get stuck in traffic, get to Q Bar at 11:30 pm, meet and party with Malaysian princess and her entourage, total blast! Fall asleep very early.
Jan 1 2001Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar) Pick up photos on Khao San Road, Lavish New Year's Buffet at hotel, fly to Rangoon!!!
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